Listen: Saint Paul Human Rights and Police Attitude

You know where the evidence you shall give relative to the matter now under consideration should be the whole truth and nothing but the truth of god. Maybe. Good site a lot cases as long as I've been away from home. But tonight I'm here in behalf of my son Ernest Johnson who's in the hospital because the police harassment. At the hearing on March eight people testifying and each witness told of serious problems they. Police all the testimony was taken under oath but as it turned out much of what was said was.


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SPEAKER 1: Do you swear that the evidence you shall give relative to the matter known or consideration shall be the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

SPEAKER 2: I do.

SPEAKER 1: You may be seated.

SPEAKER 2: Well, I could cite a lot of cases as long as I've been away from home. But tonight I'm here on behalf of my son, Ernest Johnson, who is in the hospital because of police harassment.

GREG BARRON: At the hearing in March, eight people testified, and each witness told of serious problems they'd encountered with Saint Paul Police. All the testimony was taken under oath. But as it turned out, much of what was said was legally only hearsay evidence. In several cases, parents testified in behalf of their sons or daughters. And in others, some of the testimony involved only indirect or limited actual experience.

After the hearing, an official from the Department of Human Rights said a transcript of the testimony would be analyzed and recommendations made to the Human Rights Commission, the department's citizens advisory group. It's that report and those recommendations which were issued today. Apparently, because of the limited and sometimes unsubstantiated testimony, the report did little more than deal with the perceptions of witnesses and certain patterns of police behavior, as indicated through common complaints.

According to the report, shared complaints included feelings on the part of witnesses that, in most cases, arresting officers were rookies trying to make points, that most disputes could have been handled on the scene rather than downtown, and that complainants are generally treated with a lack of respect while being questioned. The report found that police tonal inflections were very negative, and a poor attitude was exerted on the part of police personnel.

This morning, I talked to Don Lewis, acting director of the Human Rights Department. According to Mr. Lewis, the question of respect and police attitudes is central to police community relations.

DON LEWIS: When a policeman arrives on a scene relative to a problem, the important thing is that discretion is used by him at the very outset, what he says, how he says. It determines actually how he can handle this matter. If he comes on as using some heavy tone, biased attitude, remarks, he's got some problems.

And I think this is the area that the complaints we're talking about, that they certainly should be properly trained and when they come upon a condition like this that they're able to conduct an investigation in the manner that is in a cordial manner, at the same time respecting the rights of the individual.

SPEAKER 2: Ernest was the only one home, so he went down there. Well, he went down there and asked the police what was going on. They shoved him and told him to get away. He said, well, look, man, I'm his brother. I just want to know what's happening. He said, I told you to get out of the way, and he shoved him again.

GREG BARRON: Another principal conclusion was that minority complainants felt that police officers were being biased in their treatment of citizens due to a lack of understanding of the minority community, race relations, and stereotyped judgments. It said Black witnesses firmly believe that police brutality and/or harassment occurs repeatedly and that this belief is unquestionably a major reason for intense Black resentment toward the police.

The report recommended better training and recruitment of more Black officers to be assigned to ride with Caucasian patrolmen.

DON LEWIS: The non-white community is constantly confronted with white faces, which represents the law, the enforcement, the thrust. And this in itself creates a friction. And it's a feeling that in our review and report, that if this setup could be changed in such a manner where that in heavily concentrated minority areas, that the police involved were minorities of either Mexicans or Blacks or Chicanos, et cetera, but they should be, we feel, some type of relationship one to one with the white officer.

We feel they have better rapport. I think overall that they're going to have to develop some type of program to bring more minority policemen in the police department. And through their assignment, assign them on an interracial basis.

GREG BARRON: Based on the testimony, the report concluded too that the police community relations patrol is held in low esteem by the Black community, and it's often ineffective.

DON LEWIS: You've got to understand that they're still part of the police department. And they're looked upon in this fashion from the people of the community. So it just kind of overflows on them. The simple fact that if an individual has a grudge or a dislike for a police officer, he's certainly going to relate it to a community relations officer who is identified with the police department. And also, we've got to understand that they have this strong relationship that exists between the community relations officer and the police department.

It came out very clearly by witnesses who referred to it that they were totally ineffective in a relationship to resolving problems or issues.

GREG BARRON: One of the most important conclusions was that the Saint Paul Police Department should be subject to review by an independent body. It was recommended that a specialized agency should be created to separately investigate complaints. It was recommended too that the complainant should be able to participate in the investigation and that the outcome should be immediately made known to the public.

DON LEWIS: I would say that the testimony of the complainants that testified at this hearing indicated that they have no faith in the present system of the police department adjudicating their problems.

There's a feeling there that the police, in some manner, are always attempting to protect one another and, therefore, that they feel that based on the type of allegations that they made and the type of complaints that they're involved with the police department, that unless there's some outside appellate body, a review board, where they feel they can get a fair shake, that they're constantly going to be having this type of problem with the police and will not be able to resolve their problems in a satisfactory manner.

GREG BARRON: Finally, the report suggested that, overall, official police procedures and policies are ill-defined. The report said that discretion on the part of every officer is interpreted and acted out differently and that existing general policies must be clarified and enforced.

DON LEWIS: I think, from my own opinion, that what is actually needed is a complete review of the police department setup and its procedures.

SPEAKER 2: So he told him, you'd better keep your hands off of me. And he said, now, don't get smart. And he started grabbing him. In the meantime, two other patrol cars came on the scene. There were four or five policemen that jumped him. They tore his clothes to shreds. This one particular policeman beat him, kicked him. And they hauled him off.

DON LEWIS: For an example, you'll find somewhere in a report where our analysts referred to the fact that she had reviewed a police manual. And it related in her how this person should be dressed relative to the code. It also related how the police officer should be involved in handling dogs.

But the thrust of the thing, although it created a whole lot of these areas, there was very little in there in relationship to how do you handle problems of people. Everything had a higher priority than handling problems of people. And I think that this is what we're suggesting, that we look at the procedures of the police department and see what improvements can be made upon them.

GREG BARRON: The analysis of the public hearing on police-community relations is now in the hands of the Human Rights Commission. After they've reviewed it, they'll make their final recommendations. According to Mr. Lewis at the Department of Human Rights, that could take 8 to 10 weeks. I'm Greg Barron.


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